A Review of A Bigger Splash, Directed by Luca Guadagnino
As its name might suggest, water is a recurring motif in Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash. As a refuge from the searing Italian heat, a refreshing drink or even a life-threatening force, water in its many guises floods the film. Refugee immigrants emerge from the sea; a rock pool makes a quiet oasis on a hike; a carafe of water is gulped down one hungover morning.
The plot of the film has an aqueous quality, too: storylines emerge in ripples and streams. Characters interact in a slippery way, splashing each other playfully, larking around in the mud of a lake or vying to swim the most lengths.
Tilda Swinton plays Marianne Lane, a rock star with a sore throat who is spending some weeks on the island of Pantellaria to recuperate, with her younger boyfriend Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenearts). Paul’s in recovery from alcoholism and what looks like attempted suicide but it’s all cool – they’re just swimming and walking and having sex in the pool. The calm they have created is shattered when Marianne’s ex-boyfriend Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) arrives with preternatural amounts of energy and a gleam in his eye. With him is his recently-discovered daughter Pen (Dakota Johnson, the only bit of misguided casting in the whole film). She is sulky and sultry and trying to find her place in this unorthodox gathering.
Paul and Harry are immediate rivals, pecking around like peacocks to impress the women. Ralph Fiennes gives the performance of a lifetime, and one of the finest examples of ‘dad dancing’ ever likely to be seen on film.
Marianne can’t speak while she recovers, and her silence emphasises Swinton’s alien beauty. Despite her lack of dialogue, we get a strong sense of her power and sexuality. It is testament to Swinton’s extraordinary skills as an actress that she can command the screen while not saying a word. Her silence also turns her into a sort of therapist for the other characters: Harry finds himself talking to her in long stream-of-conscious monologues, almost as though he is on the couch. As Marianne’s whisperings become wispier and her smile tighter, the other characters begin to unravel.
Haunting, elegiac and lyrical, this film is a hymn to the twin powers of romance and lust. On the surface – more water metaphors – it is a quiet film with a momentary splash of violence. But swim a little deeper and a whole new underwater world emerges.
Written by Violet Hudson, Film editor of Arteviste.com